Spying, hacking and intimidation: Israel’s nine-year ‘war’ on the International Criminal Court exposed

Spying, hacking and intimidation: Israel’s nine-year ‘war’ on the International Criminal Court exposed

The Guardian reports:

When the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court (ICC) announced he was seeking arrest warrants against Israeli and Hamas leaders, he issued a cryptic warning: “I insist that all attempts to impede, intimidate or improperly influence the officials of this court must cease immediately.”

Karim Khan did not provide specific details of attempts to interfere in the ICC’s work, but he noted a clause in the court’s foundational treaty that made any such interference a criminal offence. If the conduct continued, he added, “my office will not hesitate to act”.

The prosecutor did not say who had attempted to intervene in the administration of justice, or how exactly they had done so.

Now, an investigation by the Guardian and the Israeli-based magazines +972 and Local Call can reveal how Israel has run an almost decade-long secret “war” against the court. The country deployed its intelligence agencies to surveil, hack, pressure, smear and allegedly threaten senior ICC staff in an effort to derail the court’s inquiries.

Israeli intelligence captured the communications of numerous ICC officials, including Khan and his predecessor as prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, intercepting phone calls, messages, emails and documents.

The surveillance was ongoing in recent months, providing Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with advance knowledge of the prosecutor’s intentions. A recent intercepted communication suggested that Khan wanted to issue arrest warrants against Israelis but was under “tremendous pressure from the United States”, according to a source familiar with its contents.

Bensouda, who as chief prosecutor opened the ICC’s investigation in 2021, paving the way for last week’s announcement, was also spied on and allegedly threatened.

Netanyahu has taken a close interest in the intelligence operations against the ICC, and was described by one intelligence source as being “obsessed” with intercepts about the case. Overseen by his national security advisers, the efforts involved the domestic spy agency, the Shin Bet, as well as the military’s intelligence directorate, Aman, and cyber-intelligence division, Unit 8200. Intelligence gleaned from intercepts was, sources said, disseminated to government ministries of justice, foreign affairs and strategic affairs.

A covert operation against Bensouda, revealed on Tuesday by the Guardian, was run personally by Netanyahu’s close ally Yossi Cohen, who was at the time the director of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad. At one stage, the spy chief even enlisted the help of the then president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila.

Details of Israel’s nine-year campaign to thwart the ICC’s inquiry have been uncovered by the Guardian, an Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and Local Call, a Hebrew-language outlet.

The joint investigation draws on interviews with more than two dozen current and former Israeli intelligence officers and government officials, senior ICC figures, diplomats and lawyers familiar with the ICC case and Israel’s efforts to undermine it. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports:

Cohen’s personal involvement in the operation against the ICC took place when he was the director of the Mossad. His activities were authorised at a high level and justified on the basis the court posed a threat of prosecutions against military personnel, according to a senior Israeli official.

Another Israeli source briefed on the operation against Bensouda said the Mossad’s objective was to compromise the prosecutor or enlist her as someone who would cooperate with Israel’s demands.

A third source familiar with the operation said Cohen was acting as Netanyahu’s “unofficial messenger”.

Cohen, who was one of Netanyahu’s closest allies at the time and is emerging as a political force in his own right in Israel, personally led the Mossad’s involvement in an almost decade-long campaign by the country to undermine the court.

Four sources confirmed that Bensouda had briefed a small group of senior ICC officials about Cohen’s attempts to sway her, amid concerns about the increasingly persistent and threatening nature of his behaviour.

Three of those sources were familiar with Bensouda’s formal disclosures to the ICC about the matter. They said she revealed Cohen had put pressure on her on several occasions not to proceed with a criminal investigation in the ICC’s Palestine case.

According to accounts shared with ICC officials, he is alleged to have told her: “You should help us and let us take care of you. You don’t want to be getting into things that could compromise your security or that of your family.” [Continue reading…]

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